Colin Donnelly, Bobcats baseball look to “finish what we started”


Photos: Liz Flynn

Tom Krosnowski

The bus is a special place for baseball players. A group of men becomes a team over several hours-long journeys on beat-up buses with bouncy suspensions and touchy pedals. 

For squads like the Quinnipiac Bobcats baseball team, the bus is a way of life. Before conference play begins (which still features bus rides as long as seven hours), the Bobcats and other cold-weather teams embark on journeys from Hamden, Connecticut through the American south, playing non-conference opponents to get some reps in. It’s almost like MLB Spring Training, only these games count, and the student-athletes still have classes to take.

Bobcats senior relief pitcher Colin Donnelly has spent a fair amount of time on the bus. He’s traveled as far as Texas, Mississippi, the Carolinas and Florida over the past four years just to play ball. His latest expedition, a five-hour jaunt from Kennesaw, Georgia to Tallahassee, Florida, was just another long trip at this point, a reason to punch up some music and zone out.

For the Bobcats though, this was no ordinary bus trip. On the afternoon of March 12, 2020, the Bobcats, as well as every other MAAC spring sports team, found out that their seasons were canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bobcats had just one more tune-up series in the South before heading back up to Hamden to start conference play. But, after just 14 games, the Quinnipiac Bobcats saw their season end prematurely, along with their hopes of defending their MAAC title.

Some of the Bobcats heard the news on Twitter before head coach John Delaney could even address his team. For Donnelly in particular, seeing his senior season ripped away was extra difficult.

“Everyone was really emotional,” Donnelly said. “I think it didn’t fully set in until Coach [Delaney] told us. Once he told us, that’s when the emotion really set in, and everyone was very upset, obviously.

“The uncertainty of everything just made your stomach really uneasy.”

There have been a lot of uncertainties for Donnelly and the Bobcats to deal with. First and foremost, the eligibility of the student-athletes. The NCAA decided to grant an extra year of eligibility to any spring athlete who saw their seasons canceled. Of course, this requires an extra year of academic eligibility as well. 

Donnelly was already planning on returning to Quinnipiac to pursue his Master’s in Business Analytics, and will now also be able to play a fifth year of NCAA baseball. He’s far from the only one – Donnelly confirmed that at least eight of Quinnipiac’s 11 seniors will be returning next year. 

Though the Bobcats never had the chance to see where they ranked among their MAAC foes this year, Donnelly still had a good feeling about the team’s chances.

“I think that’s the biggest reason why everyone’s coming back, because we know that we had a very good chance of [defending the MAAC title],” Donnelly said. “We have a great group coming back next year. I think we have a real chance to repeat what we did last year.”

That, of course, referring to the Bobcats’ remarkable run to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2005, which Donnelly played a central part in. Last season, he pitched the most innings of any relief pitcher on the team (59.1), including 16.1 frames over four playoff games in the MAAC and NCAA tournaments. 

In those playoffs, Donnelly compiled a stellar 1.10 ERA, highlighted by a gutsy 7.2-inning marathon of scoreless pitching vs. Fairfield for a trip to the NCAA Tournament. It was the most innings Donnelly ever pitched in a single NCAA game, but it proved he’d do whatever it took to advance his team.

After such a breakout season, Donnelly focused on training to become even better. Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced him to change how he prepares for his next time out on the mound. After working all day in Hamden, Donnelly tries to find a teammate to throw with (while observing social distancing guidelines), but sometimes has to throw alone or work with free weights by himself.

“If you’re trying to get bigger and stronger right now, it’s not really the time for it,” Donnelly said. “It’s more maintaining what you have and making what you have work.”

One advantage of the pandemic is the increased amount of time that Donnelly has to study film.

“The mental side is one of the things I’ve been trying to focus on,” Donnelly said. “Just watching video and seeing what small things I can change, so then when I do actually go out there and throw or do a certain movement, I know that I prepared myself as much as I possibly can to do that, given the circumstances.”

Although Donnelly would normally be bonding with his team over long bus rides this time of the year, he’s still found ways to stay in touch with his teammates.

“It’s weird because this is the time when we’re supposed to be together the most,” Donnelly said. “Sure, we got through those four weeks of constant travel that we have at the beginning of our season, but that was supposed to bring us together for this time of the year. We should have been getting ready for the MAAC championships right now, and it’s crazy that we’re not in that position right now.”

The Bobcats will not be able to defend their MAAC crown this year, but the hope is that Donnelly and his teammates will get that chance next May. The roster will be a bit bigger, a mix of returning players and new recruits, but they’ll still have those all-too-familiar bus rides to get to know each other.

“We all want to go out and finish what we started,” Donnelly said. “That’s really been our main focus, talking about that. It’s just finishing what we didn’t get to this year.”